Headline Twists Richard Cohen’s (and Mel Gibson’s) Words

The Patriot Ledger, a daily newspaper based in Quincy, Massachusetts, has egregiously violated a key principle of journalistic ethics—namely, that an article’s headline must accurately reflect the content of the article.

According to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, a responsible newspaper must “make certain that headlines … do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.”

Misrepresent, however, is precisely what a headline assigned by the Patriot Ledger to an Aug. 3 column by Richard Cohen does.

The column, which originally ran in the Washington Post on Aug. 1 under the headline “A Moment Mel Would Understand,” argues that Mel Gibson’s recent comments about “the Jews” was certainly anti-Semitic, and goes on to explain that the world, too, “is having a Mel Gibson moment” regarding Israel.

Cohen asserts that those in the international community who claim Israel alone is responsible for the carnage in Lebanon are demonstrating a worrisome, if perhaps not anti-Semitic, “rush to judgment” against Israel. He criticizes the world community, including United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, for seemingly forgetting the causes of the current war—Hezbollah’s unprovoked attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians—and focusing exclusively on shocking television images of destruction in Lebanon. Israel’s military operations—mistakes notwithstanding – is a response to the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and the rocket attacks on Israeli towns, Cohen notes, but nobody seems concerned with this fact. He deplores that Israel is being held to an unreasonably high standard, and Hezbollah is being held to no standard of decency at all

“… [T]he world, appalled at what it can see on television and untroubled by what it cannot, has had it with Israel. Mel Gibson would understand.”

So what does the Patriot Ledger headline to Cohen’s column proclaim?

“Gibson not the only one fed up with Israel.”

More than just distorting Mel Gibson’s already troubling words—according to transcripts of the arrest report, the actor said nothing about Israel, but rather spoke ill of “the Jews”—the headline twists the crux of Richard Cohen’s argument. The headline makes it appear that Cohen was castigating Israel—the very practice Cohen was lamenting.
Whether this extremely misleading headline was a result of malice, or simply incompetence or inexperience in the headline writing department, editors at the newspaper should ensure that future headlines actually reflect the content of the article.

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